Please provide a summary of "Relic" by Ted Hughes.

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In this poem, the speaker looks at "relics" of life beneath the sea and thinks about what they mean, concluding the world beneath the sea is a brutal, unforgiving joyless place.

In the first stanza, the speaker finds a "jawbone" tossed up from the sea onto the beach along with...

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In this poem, the speaker looks at "relics" of life beneath the sea and thinks about what they mean, concluding the world beneath the sea is a brutal, unforgiving joyless place.

In the first stanza, the speaker finds a "jawbone" tossed up from the sea onto the beach along with the remains of dead crabs and dogfish. He comments that the sea is cold and unfriendly, a dog-eat-dog (or fish-eat-fish) world.

In the second stanza, the speaker continues to dwell on what it is like under the sea. Down there, he believes, one finds no compassion between creatures: sea animals only touch to gnaw and devour each other. It is a brutal world, and the remains of its battles are cast on the seashore:

shells,
Verterbrae, claws, carapaces, skulls.

In stanza three, the theme of the harshness of the sea continues. The narrator states that the "failed" are washed up—meanwhile, for those still down below, life is a struggle in which no creature gets rich or laughs: everything is a fierce fight for survival.

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Hughes’s key preoccupation in this poem is with the fact that everything touched by the sea—and, by extension, by time—is “devour[ed].” The speaker illustrates this point by describing a jawbone he has found: the type of bone is important, as it allows reference to the other “jaws” which have devoured, over time, whatever animal this bone belonged to, leaving only this, the “indigestible” jaw, to be swept up on the beach. The jawbone is the end of the process, but there are crabs and dogfish at its “beginning,” reinforcing the fact that this process of devouring is endless and inexorable. The jawbone never took any joy or sustenance from the sea, which offers no “camaraderie.” By contrast, it has been torn apart until it can be broken down no more, and is now a memorial only, a “cenotaph” to whatever animal once lived with it.

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Ted Hughes expected the reader to find his or her  own interpretation of his poetry and as such, his subjects are sometimes difficult to follow. In Relic, he uses the sea, a long time fascination of his, to make his point about the continuing cycle of life as "Time in the sea eats its tail."

The sea is significant in relation to the repeating pattern as the depths of it hold many unsolved mysteries as mankind has yet to discover all that it holds where "The deeps are cold." The sea is also an unfriendly place where survival is key and "In that darkness camaraderie does not hold" as creatures prey on each other to survive.

The speaker is contemplating a bone that he has found and is led to wonder about any sea creature and how it will  "flap for half an hour and turn to a crust" as it dies and makes its contribution to "Continue the beginning." In other words, life recycles and the sea can be proud of its " achievement" as life goes on despite the destructive nature of the sea and the creatures within it as" Nothing touches but, clutching, devours. "

The tone reveals that the sea is not a hospitable place and even the creatures that prey on other creatures also become nothing more than "Jaws / Eat and are finished and the jawbone comes to the beach" as they also become part of the recycling process.

The bones become representative of the sea itself as they serve as "a cenotaph" - a reminder, a monument; just as a trophy reminds us of a noble animal which has served its purpose. It's as if the sea is itself the predator as it " thrives," and makes use even of those seemingly useless creatures  "Indigestibles" and goes on, absorbing those "That failed far from the surface." 

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